Well here we are again, it’s December. The 7-5 Ravens are trying to hold on to the last wild card spot and we have a road game in Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
Similar to last year’s Christmas Day game, starting cornerback, Jimmy Smith will be missing the game due to injury. But on the other sideline, the Steelers will be without two key players; first one being linebacker Ryan Shazier who had 11 tackles and four pass deflections in the first matchup. Shazier is disruptive as a pass rusher and in coverage so him being out is somewhat a relief for the offensive line and Joe Flacco.
Juju Shucster-Smith will also be out of action due to suspension which was upheld today by the league office. Smith caught the only passing touchdown for the Steelers in the week 4 matchup. Smith’s absence is key but it isn’t as big as a gap as Shazier’s because the Steelers still have Leveon Bell (who ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the first matchup) and league leading receiver Antonio Brown.
In the week 4 matchup the Ravens defense doubled Antonio Brown on every play and took the approach that Leveon Bell would have to be the one to beat them, but they would not give up any big plays in the passing game. While Bell did have a big day, there were 340 pounds missing in the middle of the Ravens defense that could have changed the game.
Interior beast Brandon Williams was out with a knee injury that week. With Jimmy Smith being the only starter missing on defense, I think it’ll be a much closer contest than the first go around. I look for the Ravens to carry out the same game plan on defense with Antonio Brown being double covered where ever he lines up.
As for the offense, which was non existent in the first game against the Steeler, they are looking to build on their best performance of the season from last week’s 44-20 win against the Lions. The offense totaled 370 yards with zero turnovers with Joe Flacco accounting for 269 passing yards and two touchdowns. While everyone is excited about last week’s output from the offense, Joe Flacco was one of the first to point out it doesn’t mean anything if the cant repeat the performance and carry some type of rhythm into the post season.
The Steelers are also without cornerback Joe Haden so there’s without Shazier and Haden there’s reason to believe the offense will stay aggressive against the Steelers D. Depending on how effective Alex Collins and Buck Allen are in the early going, maybe the Ravens can pull off another play action bomb to Mike Wallace similar to the one last week. But the point being, it all starts with the run.
If the Ravens are able to stay in control of the ground game and not let the Steelers build a big lead where it becomes predictable when a play action or pass play in general is coming, Joe Flacco should be able to replicate last week’s performance. But if the Ravens are steadily playing from down ten points, yo cant expect Flacco to shoulder the load with the limited weapons we have on the outside.
I usually would save my prediction for Friday but I had my mind made up for two weeks how we would win this game. I’m going Ravens 23-17. Flacco finishes with two touchdowns, the defense forces two interception, and… the heck another strip sack for T-Sizzle.